Why Typical Wellbeing Programs Don't Work

“Before you heal someone, ask him if he’s willing to
give up the things that made him sick” - Hippocrates

Leading a team responsible for promoting behaviour change in the areas of wellbeing, safety and organisation development, I’m able to make some key observations that are often overlooked by the workplace wellbeing industry. 

Whether they are front-line call centre staff or executive managers, often people have one resounding thing in common:

“Just because we know better, doesn’t mean that we behave better”.

Let’s use this as an example:

One of your employees finds it difficult to sleep at night. They have a demanding role, a large team to manage and a fair amount of responsibility both inside and outside of the workplace. They are hardworking, and they are doing everything in their power to deliver multiple projects at any one time. They are highly valued by the organisation. For the sake of this article we’ll call them ‘Sam’ (because I like to be gender neutral when I’m stereotyping employee demographics for the sake of storytelling!).

One of Sam’s key personal values is ‘recognition’ and whether conscious or not, Sam’s consistently finding ways to promote that recognition value.

Our personal values are created through our unique life experiences – the result of our learned behaviour and usually based on the most successful pathways we have found to meet our most basic human needs.

Sam’s recognition value is the same value that has fuelled the motivation that led to the position they are in today. It is, however, the very same value that finds Sam tossing and turning at night unable to switch off.

As a result of an unrestful and patchy night’s sleep, Sam wakes up feeling exhausted, stressed and bad tempered, yarning for more sleep.  Sam loads up on caffeine, loses the plot with traffic on the way to drop the kids at daycare the following morning, grabs some version of ‘fake food’ on the way into the office and reaches their desk a good half an hour later than planned.

Straight away Sam is sucked into emails – a vortex of other people’s urgencies and begins to fight the fires of that particular weekday.  

That day Sam’s too busy and tired for any movement so works through ‘lunch’ and spends the day staring at screens.  Sam may race home that evening just in time to bath the kids and will be back online nursing a couple of glasses of red that evening because it was a ‘hell of a day’!

Overall, the more fires that Sam fights, the more recognition will be consciously or, in most cases, unconsciously, promoted.  

That is of course until one day the whole building is on fire and our employee, Sam, is well and truly in burnout zone. Or worse.

As ‘wellbeing experts’, we might suggest that HR provide Sam with a heap of research-backed findings and articles on ‘stress management’ or schedule a meditation workshop one lunchtime where they’ll learn the importance of being mindful. I dare say, however, they’ve already heard it.

Your employees (including Sam) already know that sleeping at 7.5 – 9 hours a night is optimal. They know that they should be eating nutritious home cooked meals and that exercising a few times per week will benefit their health.

What your employees don’t often know, is the values that are currently driving their behaviours and what they may be giving up in order to demonstrate healthier behaviours.

By asking them to behave differently without this insight, we are asking them to give up the very thing that is making them feel good.

How sustainable is it to give up the things that make you feel good? Have you ever tried to give up something that you value? It’s nearly impossible to re-train your brain through years of conditioning and learned behaviour and more importantly, it isn’t actually necessary.

What if you could give your employees the tools, not only to understand their own personal values, but to help them to design their lives in a way that would help them further promote them in more sustainable and effective ways?

Eliminate the real threat of burnout and you’ve got yourself a committed, well rested, hard-working employee with the capacity to lead and engage others, to contribute outside of themselves and champion the goals of your organisation.  

Effective and well-rounded workplace wellbeing programs centre around NOT asking employees to give up the things that might be making them sick, but to find better vehicles to meet their needs for the long-term, not just for today.

If you’d like to know more about our customisable programs, drop me a line at brad@synergyhealth.co.nz. I would appreciate the chance to learn more about your organisation’s goals and the behaviour change strategies your team are currently working on.


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